The challenge to the city's architecture and design community was to reimagine Winnipeg. And reimagine they did.
The first of 18 stunning submissions to re-invent this city will be revealed Thursday at a special forum at the Free Press News Café. The call for submissions came from a unique partnership between Storefront Manitoba -- an umbrella organization that reaches into the architecture, engineering and design communities -- and the Winnipeg Free Press.
The duration for the competition was just two months. Even with those tight timelines, Winnipeg's architecture and design community responded in remarkable fashion.
David Penner, an architect and director of Storefront, said he was blown away by the response.
"The gross majority were wide-ranging, thought-provoking and dynamic," Penner said. "With only eight weeks' notice, the design community truly stepped up to the plate."
Penner said the question put to the entrants was to imagine what Winnipeg could be from a design and planning perspective if there were no limits. Proposals had to demonstrate some practical features to make them compelling to a larger audience, Penner noted. However, the point of the proposal call was to get the professionals to stretch their imaginations.
"It's important for all Winnipeggers to think outside the box, to step back from the day-to-day issues and look at the big picture," he said.
"The design professionals, given the breadth of their general knowledge of cities and infrastructure, and their understanding of quality-of-life values, are well-positioned to imagine Winnipeg as a better place. And given their expertise, they are well positioned to reinvent the systems and strategies for implementation. Without their creativity and ingenuity we'll never see real change."
There were so many submissions, and so varied in their approach, Storefront decided to organize them into three main categories: the fantastical; the megaprojects; and those proposals that had the best chance of immediate implementation.
In the fantastical category, the submissions ranged from a wholesale reclamation of the city's riverbeds, an extraordinary network of green pedestrian walkways, a broad network of reinvented rail lines, and green "power centres" that create acres of new public space.
SHUT THE FLOOD UP:
Ager Little Architects
In the prelude to the widening of the Red River Floodway, there were discussions about transforming the enhanced ditch that surrounds the city's eastern flank into a year-round recreational space. Winnipeg's Ager Little took things a little farther, reimagining Winnipeg with a permanently open floodway that dries the Red River bed through the city, revealing more than 600 hectares of new public space.
In comparison, this new parkland would be four times the size of Assiniboine Park and roughly equal to the combined space of Montreal's Mont Royal and Vancouver's Stanley parks. According to the submission, the space would include "traditional and sculptural green space, controlled canals, rolling hills for tobogganing, undulating recreation paths, new energy-efficient housing... festival plazas, controlled canals for skating or kayaking, boardwalks, clean lakes with urban beaches, ski trails and European-style markets."
THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION: Cibinel Architects
Cibinel starts their vision of an entirely new public transit system with a series of questions. "If you could walk from one end of the city to the other, without a car in sight, which route would you take? Would you stick to the roadways, or would you find yourself meandering between buildings, under bridges and on the river? What would you see? Where would you end up, and how would you get there?"
Cibinel's vision is a contiguous, if not somewhat meandering, green walkway that crosses the city horizontally. The pathway would make use of existing paths and greenways, but also between buildings, under bridges and grade separations and even on the river. In Cibinel's fantastic vision, elevated roadways would rise over Portage and Main, allowing the once-sterile intersection to become a new central park.
THE POST-PRAIRIE PARK:
Bird's sprawling vision is not really one development; it's a plan to create hundreds of new spaces in what the firm calls its "post-prairie park," an urban hybrid of the city's hard surfaces and agricultural features.
It would see agricultural crops such as wheat, tall grass and other native plants used to create "seas of green and gold" that would reclaim undeveloped voids, expressway flanks, parking lots and railway right of ways. Indigenous tall grasses would populate rooftops, gardens would be added to parking lots. The city and other levels of government would compensate land owners with long-term leases so that the land could be redeveloped into public space. The end result, according to Bird, is a "new ecosystem of plants and people, both city and nature" coexisting in new and dynamic ways.
It would be easy to dismiss some, if not all, of these ideas as simply too fantastical to be of any practical benefit. Penner strongly disagrees. As ambitious as they are, these are the ideas that help define the community's appetite for change and innovation, he added.
"It's really important for policy-makers to hear that our community is eager for change, significant change that comes through understanding, imagining and vision," Penner said. "The more it's talked about, by all of us, the more likely real change will happen."
See the designs
Storefront Manitoba and the Winnipeg Free Press present the first of three forums to reveal submissions in the "Re-imagining Winnipeg" competition. The architects will present their designs at the Free Press News Café Thursday at 7 p.m. Admission is free and all are welcome.